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Denise Massman on costuming Montana Shakespeare in the Parks

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Jul 09, 2021 at 12:48 PM in Project News

In today's blog, Denise Massman tells us about the spectacular costumes she deisgned for Montana Shakespeare in the Park's Cymbeline, currently on summer tour. Massman is a professional theatre designer who teaches at Siena College in upstate New York. Born and educated in Montana, she has been designing shows for MSIP for over 26 years.

Costumes for Queen and Cloten

Cymbeline in the Anthropocene: How did you approach presenting Cymbeline through your costume designs?  

Denise Massman: The creative team focused on the idea of a fairy tale world. Each kingdom in the world of the play had a very different look with little visual relationship to each other except for silhouettes:

World of Britain – City decay and corruption

World of Wales – Nature and a place of reconciliation

World of Italy – Urban wealth

The eye-popping world of Cymbeline’s court displays ostentatious wealth with a gritty decay underneath. I was inspired by graffiti as an urban language, and combined it with lines from the play on the costumes. [The lines were chosen in consultation with dramaturge Gretchen Minton]. Graffiti requires visual attention, and invites spectator engagement. For example, Cymbeline’s costume has lines and markers written in paint on a spray-painted, background trim: “Does the world go round?”; and “I am amazed with matter.”

Cymbeline costume design

At the same time, this personal “graffiti” became a way to provide an abstract, visual decoration that represented the city environment of the court. The result is the creation of layers of found surfaces and human inscriptions which emblematize urban Anthropocene conditions. The Queen’s trim is done in a similar method; e.g. “Unless thou thinkest me devilish” and “such creatures as we count not worth the hanging.”

Concept for Cymbeline

The king also wears a jewel-studded vest with detachable sleeves that functions as a kind of armor during the battle scene with the crown and robe off. The crown is in the form of a small city scape that is covered in color and texture built by the crafts person. His black double-decker belt mimics a cummerbund indicating his power and privilege.

Concept for Queen's costume

The ruffs on him and other characters became emblems of authority and status in both the worlds of Britain and Rome. The Queen’s hot pink and Cloten’s lime green ruffs are particularly garish, and suggest the madness and decadence of the British ruling class.

Concept for Cloten's costume

By contrast Pisanio’s ruff is muted and toned down, and his doublet and trousers are in earth colors suggesting his natural moral groundedness.

Concept for Pisanio's costume

Pisanio, Cornelius, and Posthumus have language written in marker on their costumes, sort of floating in a sea of color and texture created by airbrush and dye. Pisanio’s devotion and faithfulness is literally written all over him: “Wherein I am false, I am honest; not true, to be true.” 

Costume sketches for Cornelius and Pisanio

Cornelius’s silhouette recalls a medieval plague doctor, and his many lines suggest his healing wisdom.

Concept for Cornelius

Posthumus has no ruff, but an oversized collar. His pants were skintight jeans, which contemporized the look, although the silhouettes allude to a historical influence. Posthumus has several sayings that demonstrate his confusion: “Is’t enough I am sorry?”; and “So I’ll die for thee, O Imogen, even for whom my life is every breath a death.” He and Imogen are tied to each other by their youth, and their gullibility.

Costume sketches for Posthumus and Imogen

CA: The interplay of visual and written texts is really fascinating. What about Imogen?

 DS: Imogen’s costume is a take on a mauve dirndl over a yellow cambric dress. I wanted to give her the illusion of being young and less corrupt. Her language is cut out and appliqued as bold trim on the skirt and the neckline; e.g. “Safe mayst thou wander, safe return again.”

Concept for Imogen's costume

When she appears as Fidele she wears a faded yellow hooded cape, suggesting the silhouette of Little Red Riding Hood.

Concept for Imogen as Fidele

It has several lines handwritten also in faded tones, and upwards with some leaf prints signifying her escape from the city and entry into the forest. My favorite line is “I see a man’s life is a tedious one,” among many more. The hooded cape also provides an elegant solution for her disguise as Fidele, and serves as a burial shroud when she seems to die.

Costume sketch of Imogen as Fidele

Her clothes also evolve the most of all the characters, as befits her changes of environment and action. As Fidele, she wears more male-looking attire of a grey tunic and shorts. She still has her leggings, but rather than the quirky rainbow stripes of the first acts, they are in chunkier stripes in darker tones reflecting the traumatic experiences she endures and overcomes. 

CA: I noticed that Posthumus’s clothes change too. Can you tell us more about that?

DS: Posthumus is dressed in layers that go on and off to reflect his volatile shifts of identity. His detachable sleeves enable the creation of a variety of looks. They are also practical, because with only eight actors, there are constant, often quick, changes of costume required. In Rome, Posthumous is elegantly dressed indigo blue. Then he adopts the brown jumpsuit with gold decoration which is uniform of the Roman soldiers. He is still wearing this at the end, suggesting that his identity and relations with Imogen are still a work in process.

Concept for Posthumus

When he is a British soldier, he wears “peasant costume” derived from contemporary urban Korean hoodies.

Concept for British "peasant" costume

CA: Thinking about your opening remarks about different kingdoms, the costumes of Wales are strikingly wilder, even more textured, and a touch exotic.

 DS: Yes, in the forest of Wales we meet Belaria [in MSIP’s adaptation, she is Cymbeline’s first wife and mother of Cadwal]. She has taken Cadwal as a female child and raised her alone in the forest of Wales. I saw Belaria as wise, but fierce.

Concept for Belaria

She and Cadwal are mighty hunters and sort of eco-warriors, in the sense that they have chosen to lead lives which disrupt the denatured, extravagant consumption of the court. I costumed them in camouflage, browns, greens and some blue.

Costume sketches for Belaria and Cadwal

I had crafts create animal-like headdresses to visualize their connection to animals. They were covered in recycled and repurposed materials and practical accessories illustrating their interactions with nature are respectful yet empowering. Props also helped fill out these looks with animal skins, and backpacks. Although a frightening and awesome place, it is in the world of Wales that the conflicts in the play are resolved. Thus, Cymbeline Anthropocene.

Concept for Cadwal

CA: Finally, what about the Rome?

DS: The world of Rome is characterized by deceit as evidenced by Iachimo’s bet with Posthumus.  The color palette is black, white and grey, with copper at the metallic element.

Concept for Iachimo

There are ruffs to indicate status, wealth and power as well, but the overall world is lacking color.  The costumes have a dripped effect created on the tunics, like something is eating away at something, rather than urban decay and graffiti. It is a distinctive place, different from the world of Britain.

CA: Thanks very much, Denise, for sharing these insights with us. And again, congratualtions on a brilliantly designed show! 

Costume sketches for Iachimo and Philario

To see images of Denise's designs in action, click here to check out a selection of performance stills from MSIP's opening night. As we enter our brief summer hiatus for the rest of July, the Cymbeline in the Anthropocene team is excited to return in August to share more production photos, updates, and other materials--from Montana, and from other upcoming productions!

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @ecocymbeline to be alerted about new content, and as always, you can use the hashtag #CymbelineAnthropocene to join the conversation. We wish a lovely and temperate summer to all!